A 16-year-old in the US suffered a tragic fate after drinking a McDonald's latte, a Mountain Dew, and an energy drink in the span of two hours. If you're thinking "That's not even that much," you'll probably want to keep on reading. The teenager had no pre-existing heart conditions and was not morbidly obese.
The coroner announced that the teen from South Carolina suffered from a "caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia." The teen weighed 90kg (200 lbs), which means that while he was overweight, he wasn't morbidly obese -- he was in the same situation millions of people in the US and around the world are.
But the effect that caffeine has on people is often unpredictable. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said at a press conference that you can take several people in a similar health condition and have wildly different results.
“This is what’s dangerous about this,” Watts said. “You can have five people line up and all of them do the exact same thing with him that day, drink more, and it may not have any type of effect on them at all.”
However, Watts stressed that this is not technically a caffeine overdose -- it's the way his body reacted to the caffeine ingested in such a short time.
"We're not saying that it was the total amount of caffeine in the system, it was just the way that it was ingested over that short period of time, and the chugging of the energy drink at the end was what the issue was with the cardiac arrhythmia."
It's not that you shouldn't drink coffee or things with caffeine, but everyone should keep an eye on their intake. We all have that friend who chugs coffee after coffee without giving it much thought, and that can be very dangerous.
"We're not trying to speak out totally against caffeine," Mr Watts said. "We believe people need to pay attention to their caffeine intake and how they do it, just as they do with alcohol or cigarettes."
How much caffeine can kill you
According to Caffeine Informer, a McDonald's latte has 142mg of caffeine, a 570ml (20oz) Mountain Dew has 90mg, and a 450ml (16oz) energy drink can have as much as 240mg. A small cup of coffee contains around 160 mg of caffeine. According to the European Food Safety Authority, drinking over 400 mg of caffeine can be unhealthy, causing higher blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, tremors, insomnia, and panic attacks. In the US, the FDA also quotes 400 mg as a safe figure which should not be passed -- for adults. However, there are no established limits for children or teenagers. It's also recommended to spread caffeine consumption throughout the day and not chug it all up quickly.
While it may be impossible to have a direct caffeine overdose in a strict sense, you can still drink enough of it to kill you. Because everybody differs, it's pretty much impossible to say just how much of it will off you. In this case, the teen drank 470 ml, which is not that much over the recommended limit (there's generally a big gap between the recommended limit and the limit which can kill you).
It's important to keep note of any potential side effects, which can indicate that your body isn't really enjoying all that coffee (or caffeine products, including edibles). These are the most common symptoms:
- Stomach upset
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
The main point is you shouldn't drink too much coffee. Three small cups a day is already too much. Adding lots of sugar makes things even worse.
Sean Cripe, the teen's father, says that he hopes at least something good will come out of this -- other people, and especially teens, will learn to avoid such drinks and thus prevent further tragedies.
“I stand before you as a brokenhearted father and hope that something good can come from this,” he said. “Parents, please, talk to your kids about the dangers of these energy drinks. And teenagers and students, please stop buying them.”
Energy drinks with caffeine are often marketed aggressively to the younger generations, a problem for which there is no clear solution in sight right now.